Nearly 75 per cent of apples exported by India are grown in Kashmir. Apple trade provides oxygen to the Kashmir’s economy, involving 3.5 million people, around half the population of the region. The Rs 8,000 crore business supports 33 lakh people, which is 47 per cent of the total population in Kashmir.
This includes seven lakh apple growers and their families, transporters, packagers, fertiliser & chemical sellers, commission agents, retail fruit sellers, and labourers who work in apple orchards.
The Modi Government’s decision that dramatically abolished Jammu and Kashmir’s special constitutional status, has cut transport links with buyers in India and abroad, fruit growers and traders, plunging the apple trade in Kashmir in a turmoil.
The government sold the move of revoking Article 370 as a way to spur growth by integrating the state with the rest of India. But, for now, the unrest that has come in the wake of his government’s action has upended the economy, further fuelling resentment in the Muslim-majority territory where an armed revolt against India rule has continued since 30 years.
In the wake of the situation, the government decided to buy 12 out of 20 metric tons of apple directly from the farmers under Market Intervention Scheme (MIS). Jammu and Kashmir Principal Secretary Rohit Kansal said in a recent press conference that the government, on September 10, has taken the step to ease the troubles faced by the apple farmers. Kansal said, “If any farmer doesn’t want to sell his crop to the government he is free to do so.”
However, the government intervention was also spurred by the attack on four apple growers, including a two-year-old girl, by suspected militants in Sopore for not observing the shutdown against the revocation of Article 370 and 35 A.
Under the umbrella of MIS, the National Agricultural Cooperative Marketing Federation of India (NAFED) decided to buy apple directly from the farmers and deposit the money in their bank accounts within 24 hours.
The NAFED would be assisted in registering the farmers, grading their crop and crediting the money into their accounts by J&K Department of Horticulture, Marketing and Planning (J&KDHMP). The farmers will have to bring their crop to four government-designated markets. According to the report, around 170 farmers registered themselves till September 15.
The localities have a varied response to this initiative by the government. Bashir Ahmed, an apple exporter said that in Sopore alone apple farmers have taken Rs 2,000 crore as advance from buyers outside Kashmir. “Can they sell their crop to the government,’’ Ahmed asked.
Ahmed went add to say – “We used to earn some profit, that isn’t possible now,’’ he added. “The same goes for buyers outside Kashmir who have given huge advances.”
However, Ghulam Mohiuddin, a grower in Sopore, said he was happy with the government decision. “We are not getting the best price, but we are saved from the deliberate rate fluctuations in the markets in Delhi and elsewhere. The buyers used to lend us money in advance but when the fruit would hit the markets in Delhi and elsewhere, the prices would abruptly fall causing losses to us.’’
Before this, MIS was limited to buying only grade C apple of different varieties whose extracts are used for making juices and jams. An officer of J&KDHMP stated one reason for the muted response so far to MIS is because the open market prices are better.
The government has fixed Rs 53 per kg for grade A and Rs 37 for grade B without packing for Delicious variety and Rs 54 and Rs 38 with wood and cardboard packing for the same. The American variety has been offered Rs 48, Rs 32 and Rs 18 for grade A, B and C respectively.
For grade A, B and C of Mahraji variety, the prices have been fixed at Rs 40, 25 and 19 respectively with packing. There is a good possibility that more buyers would sell their crop to the government because of the prevailing situation.
The impact of the clampdown and communication blockade has resulted in a havoc on the apple industry that compared to 1,100 trucks that used to leave the market every day after the beginning of the harvest season in September to different parts of India have been reduced to 30 to 40 trucks a day.
Ahmed said “We could still have managed respectable numbers if the police and other forces had allowed the market to function after 6 pm. Even during the uprising in 2016, this market remained open without any hassle.’’
The situation in South Kashmir’s Shopian, Pulwama and Kulgam is equally unfavourable for the farmers. The fear of being targeted by militants for not abstaining from work due to shutdown is more palpable in the South Kashmir districts than elsewhere.
According to Ahmed, unlike north Kashmir, only 50 per cent growers in South Kashmir sell their crop to buyers in advance. “The south Kashmir grower is a progressive grower,’’ he said. Most of them are not tempted by getting advance payments. As a result, they get better value for their crop.
Truck drivers have switched to mini taxis as the business has come to a halt. One of the drivers in the area said, “We cannot drive off the national highway. If we do, we are pelted with stones, and they take over our trucks and throw our apples on the road to rot.”
One truck driver said – ‘My owner did not allow the truck to leave for 48 days because of the fear that it might be caught in stone pelting, or, worse, our stock stolen or thrown off.
Ever since the union government scrapped Jammu and Kashmir’s special status, the state has been under a lockdown that has almost brought life in the Valley to a standstill, particularly affecting trade and commerce mainly the apple industry of Kashmir.